Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Merry Steveston Christmas to you

Call me old-fashioned but nothing beats traditional evergreens for making any building more festive at Christmas.

Chains, wreaths, and garlands made of garden trimmings can perk up even the simplest facades.

In my meanderings through the village, three store fronts impressed me most with their classic lines and rich display of the season's colours - sumptuous greens, regal silver, the muted red of velvet bows, and the highly polished red of bells and berries - interwoven with softly glowing LED lights.

The morning I took these photos was bitter cold. My fingers were numb even before I (reluctantly) pulled them out of my gloves to push the shutter button. I hope they bring you joy and that incomparable Christmas feeling.

Prickly Pear Garden Centre with cascades of leaves

Heringer's clock - wrapped in a cloak of winter greens

Heringer's Fine Meats' windows sporting the traditional Christmas look

Steveston WineMakers looking cozy and inviting

The Christmas cake - more than just fruits

In the last blog, we obsessed about Christmas cookies. This time, we will delve into their heftier cousin, the Christmas cake.

The Christmas cake had a rather humble beginning as the plum porridge. Made with cheap ingredients, its purpose was purely utilitarian - to coat the stomach after a day of fasting.

In the 16th century, with the addition of butter, wheat flour, honey, and eggs, the plum porridge was upgraded to the boiled plum cake. Of course, wealthier families had the luxury of taking this cake up another notch. They added marzipan, dried seasonal fruits, and spices - in effect, introducing the Christmas cake as we know it today to the world. Well, to the richer circles anyhow.

Today, the Christmas cake is typically a fruitcake that reflects local ingredients and preferences:

*The Japanese Christmas cake is a simple sponge cake, frosted with whipped cream, and decorated with chocolates, strawberries, or other fruits

*The Filipinos mixed macerated nuts and fruits into their Christmas pound cake and soak it with brandy or rum

*The Germans' Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen is still a traditional fruitcake

*The French popularized the Buche de Noel, or the Christmas log, a thinly rolled sponge cake filled with jam and coated with butter cream icing, meringue, or marzipan

*The Scots, not to be outdone, are well known for their Whisky Dundee; I think you can guess what is the critical ingredient in this national treasure

However, regardless of their colour, texture, weight, and moisture content, and whether they are frosted, glazed, dusted with icing sugar, and doused with brandy, sherry, or whiskey - or not - Christmas cakes are invariably made in advance and served to guests at this time of year.

I think that's ample Christmas cake trivia to digest for now. Suffice it to say that, like the Christmas cake, we have also evolved into much more sophisticated beings that favour subtler tastes and complex yet delicately balanced infusion of flavours. And we also demand creations that please our eyes as much as our palates.

Here's a prime example of what would be considered a fine modern day Christmas cake created by Steveston's own Erlinda Jalandoon of Picture Your Cake:

Photo courtesy of Erlinda Jalandoon
of Picture Your Cake

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas cookies - more than just sugar and spice

Perhaps more than Santa, turkey dinner, knitted stockings, and softly glowing LED lights, nothing sets the holiday cheer afire in me like Christmas cookies.

They sit so snugly in your hand, sending off whiffs of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, or peppermint. Just one bite can transport you heavenward like Handel's Messiah. I'm not sure what happens at the molecular level but I'm sure the combination of sugar, spices, flour, and butter can alter the circuitry in your brain and simultaneously sizzle all its pleasure centres. You can't eat a Christmas cookie and not feel good will towards men. It's just that potent.

The history of cookies dates back to Medieval Europe. With sugar once selling for the equivalent of $100 per pound, and other essential ingredients such as flour considered expensive, cookies were rare treats and baked to mark significant Western celebrations. By 1500, cookies have spread all through Europe, with each country developing its own signature version of these crispy small cakes.

The Germans, for example, offer us their famous buttery Spritz cookies and Lebkuchen or gingerbread cookies. The Swedes are into spicy delights, which is what you would experience when biting into Pepparkakor. If you have a hyper-developed sense of smell, you might prefer the Norwegian Krumkake, which is a thin lemon and cardamon-scented wafer. But it was the Dutch, whose word Koeptje was the ancestor of our word "cookie," who brought the earliest Christmas cookies to the new world in the early 1600's. You gotta love them!

Here in Steveston, we have creative individuals who make it their business to bake fresh cookies to delight your senses. I have asked them to submit their most festive creations and greetings to help you embrace the most gastronomically-centred season of the year. Feast your eyes on these beauties and get inspired to bake your own batch. Here's happy nibbling to you!

Photos courtesy of Heidi Thorsteinson
Heidi wishes to extend to you and your families the best of happiness, health, peace,and prosperity during the holidays and throughout 2010. Thank you for your continued support.

Photos courtesy of Lisa Ellis
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Lisa at A Cake WIsh! Thank you for all your business!

Photos courtesy of Mika Livingston
The Steveston Cookie Company
Andrew and Mika Livingston of the Steveston Cookie Company wish everyone a deliciously wonderful holiday season! Thanks for a great 2009!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Community service brings Sue Girling many rewards

How can you tell that volunteering is in your blood?

When you do it for 25 years in Steveston and still get a sense of joy from serving your community.

Such is the case with Sue Girling, who decided to trod down this path after graduating from high school - just for fun. This sense of fun has sustained her as a member of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society where she served on the Board of Directors and sat on various committees. It has also swept her to the peak of her volunteer career when, in 2002, she was elected as the chairperson of this organization. Along the way, Sue also shared her time with the International order of Job’s Daughters on the Bethel Guardian Council, Brownies and Girl Guides, Richmond Visitor Industry Development Board, Steveston Business Association, Gun Lake Ratepayers Association, Steveston Brochure Committee, BC Packers Advisory Council, and the Richmond Museum Society.

Sue Girling and Mayor Malcolm Brody presenting a gift from the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society to Crown Princess Masako of Japan on her visit to the Cannery in 2004 during Sue's term as Chair.

But Sue is more than the sum of her years of community work. She is also a mother, a devoted wife of 35 years, a home-based business owner for 25 years, and an active promoter of Steveston to locals and tourists alike.

"I have worked for myself for over 25 years. My husband Norris and I started a home-based business that provided computer consulting, desktop publishing, and image setting services. To parallel and enhance some of my volunteering, I have published The Steveston Villager Business Directory for the past 22 years. I also own the community website that features the Historic Village of Steveston as a community " explains Sue.

Having a home business has allowed Sue to raise two daughters, Lesley and Ashley, without the aid of day care and given the Girlings considerable freedom to travel and spend time at the family cottage at Gun Lake -- blessings for which she feels truly thankful.

"Steveston has provided me with self employment and sense of community like none other. I have been able to bring up two wonderful daughters and still be home for them after school. They have been brought up in a small town within a city, by wonderful caring businesses and community groups, and they would live nowhere else," she adds.

Sue's husband Norris retired last year and she considers herself semi-retired though still very much at the helm of her home-based enterprise. Sue is enjoying spending lots of quality time with her husband and, yes, heeding the occasional call for volunteers in her favourite community.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Santa arrives in Steveston

Christmas officially arrived in Steveston on December 5th. And who better to usher in the jolliest time of the year than Santa himself.

Throngs of parents wheeling little ones in buggies converged on Steveston Landing. To be sure, some were there to buy fresh fish off the boats. But most of them were there for one reason only - to capture Santa in the flesh. Perhaps bending over their delighted children.

A crush of Santa's fans awaiting his arrival

Stevestonites were encouraged to dress in red that day as a show of support for the 2010 Winter Olympics. A sprinkling of community-spirited individuals did just that. Which was not an entirely bad thing as, a few times, I overheard younger children getting unnecessarily worked up when they caught sight of flashes of red in the crowd - only to be told that they were mistaken. Imagine how agitated and overwhelmed they would have been had everyone shown up in Santa's colour.

Two of the people who showed up in red

A little past 2:00 PM, Santa arrived at the dock, flanked by two RCMP officers wearing the Red Serge. The guest of honour trudged his way up the gangplank, advanced slowly across the boardwalk, and wound his way towards the Gulf of Georgia Cannery - all the while waving his bells and roaring out his ho-ho-ho.

Santa being escorted by two RCMP officers

It was heartening to notice how Santa's popularity has not diminished over the years. In fact, judging from the cameras thrust before him and pleas for "just one more shot," I would say that Santa could rival any A-List star as he threaded his way past the mob of paparazzi - with poise and good humour.

Santa - never too busy to smile for the camera

There were other planned festivities around Steveston that day, such as photo ops with Santa at the cannery, illuminating the Sequoia tree outside in red lights, and taking a horse-drawn carriage ride around the village.

The long line anticipating Santa's arrival at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery

A little tour around the village - just the thing to end a perfect day